The Rocking-Horse Winner

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Greed and Materialism Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Greed and Materialism  Theme Icon
Luck and Hard Work Theme Icon
Anxiety Theme Icon
Family and Intimacy Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Rocking-Horse Winner, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Greed and Materialism  Theme Icon

The plot of “The Rocking-Horse Winner” is fueled by a cycle of approval and greed. Hester sets this cycle in motion by seeking the approval of her neighbors. She does not have enough money to live the lifestyle that they do, but she wants their approval so badly that she becomes greedy for more material wealth. Her greed even makes her blind to the fact that her anxiety over money and the approval of others has a deep effect on her children. Paul and his siblings feel as though the house is constantly whispering that they need money, but when Paul manages to actually give Hester some money, her greed only grows. Instead of repaying her debts, she purchases new furniture and prepares to send Paul to a more prestigious school—investments which are tailored toward winning the approval of the outside world instead of providing comfort to her family or leading a sustainable lifestyle.

Paul’s desire for approval also leads to greed, although he does not want any money for himself. Instead, he wants his mother to think of him as lucky, so he becomes obsessed with finding luck—so much so that he whips his toy rocking-horse and rides him furiously in an effort to obtain this state of “luck.” In many ways, Paul’s greed is much less selfish than that of Hester, as he does not want money for himself, and only becomes greedy to help his mother and quiet the voices in his house. Hester’s greed, on the other hand, is entirely selfish. But Paul’s selflessness does not save him: he becomes so obsessive and intense in his pursuit of luck that he dies in the process. Ultimately Lawrence exposes greed as always harmful, no matter the intentions behind it.

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Greed and Materialism Quotes in The Rocking-Horse Winner

Below you will find the important quotes in The Rocking-Horse Winner related to the theme of Greed and Materialism .
The Rocking-Horse Winner Quotes

And so the house came to be haunted by the unspoken phrase: There must be more money! There must be more money!

Related Characters: Paul, Hester, Joan
Page Number: 270
Explanation and Analysis:

Hester's reckless spending compared her moderate income (and the moderate income of her husband) creates debt for the family. Paired with this debt is constant anxiety of how the family will appear to the neighbors and to society. The pressure for money and to maintain a certain status and lifestyle creates tension, greed, and necessity in the house. Thus the family feels that the house is haunted by the unspoken words: "There must be more money!"

The lines of this "haunting" are repeated throughout the story, and though they do not seem to be spoken audibly by family members, the words are felt by the children, the mother, and even Uncle Oscar, who will later agree that the house is always short of money. The haunting is figurative, representing the family's constant desire for more wealth, but the whispering is felt and heard literally, too, by the children, in particular Paul.


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Yet nobody ever said it aloud. The whisper was everywhere, and therefore no one spoke it. Just as no one ever says: “We are breathing!” in spite of the fact that breath is coming and going all the time.”

Related Characters: Paul, Hester, Joan
Page Number: 270
Explanation and Analysis:

These lines describe the uncanny feeling that the house is always whispering that there must be more money. This constant whispering is then juxtaposed with the family's silence. The family does not communicate with one another or share their worries or anxieties, displaying a lack of intimacy and openness. Thus the greed and pressure for money is transformed into unspoken tension, and from this tension to the haunting that deeply affects the young children. This haunting, we see, becomes an essential part of living in the family and in the house, since it is compared even to the act of breathing. Money is equated with breath, which is constantly needed and fulfilled subconsciously to maintain life. By making this comparison, Lawrence shows the perils of overvaluing wealth or mistaking money for something that truly matters or gives life.

“[Luck is] what causes you to have money. If you’re lucky you have money. That’s why it’s better to be born lucky than rich. If you’re rich, you may lose your money. But if you’re lucky, you will always get more money.”

Related Characters: Hester (speaker), Paul
Page Number: 271
Explanation and Analysis:

One day Paul, the young boy, asks his mother, Hester, why the family doesn't own a car. Her throwaway, bitter response is that the family is unlucky, specifically she and her husband. She then defines luck as "what causes you to have money," and goes on to say that it is "better to be born lucky than rich," since "if you're lucky you will always get more money."

This response has a profound affect on Paul's young mind. He becomes so obsessed with luck and being lucky that he begins to orient his entire life through this lens. Here, Lawrence portrays an attitude that he believed was plaguing modern society: Hester is materialistic and greedy, constantly desiring more money, but she does not equate success with hard work. Rather, she believes true wealth should be accumulated through luck; she shouldn't have to do anything. Likewise, since simple bad luck is the cause of her poverty (relative to her desires, that is), she doesn't have to do anything to fix it. She tries to work, but blames her modest income on a lack of luck and no fault of her own. Note also that believing that she is poor when in reality she is well-off (compared to most others) is another symptom of a greedy, materialistic society in which no amount of money or luck can satisfy the house's (and family's) hunger.

Absorbed, taking no heed of other people, he went about with a sort of stealth, seeking inwardly for luck. He wanted luck, he wanted it, he wanted it. When the two girls were playing dolls, in the nursery, he would sit on his big rocking-horse, charging madly into space with a frenzy that made the little girls peer at him uneasily.

Related Characters: Paul, Joan
Related Symbols: The Rocking-Horse
Page Number: 272
Explanation and Analysis:

After learning his mother's opinions about luck, Paul becomes obsessed with this reality and the idea that he is lucky. He begins to retreat even beyond the regular lack of intimacy he experienced in the house, stealthily turning inward and becoming exceedingly anxious and private. He wanted luck—and note that Lawrence emphasizes the strength of this desire by repeating the phrase three times.

Here we are introduced to the physical activity which he believes will drive his luck and which mirrors his crazed mental state: the boy sits on his rocking-horse and rides it (in place) in a frenzy. This motionless effort at once makes no progress, since the horse doesn't go anywhere, but is also rewarded, since he eventually seems to reach the state of "luck" that he seeks.

Note also that the frenzied riding of the rocking-horse can be read as sexual and Freudian, pulsed with the strange desire for Paul to "get there" for himself and for his mother. 

And he would slash the horse on the neck with the little whip he had asked Uncle Oscar for. He knew the horse could take him to where there was luck, if only he forced it. So he would mount again, and start on his furious ride, hoping at last to get there.

Related Characters: Paul, Oscar Cresswell (Uncle Oscar)
Related Symbols: The Rocking-Horse
Page Number: 272
Explanation and Analysis:

Riding the rocking-horse and commanding it to "take me to where there is luck!" Paul whips the horse as if it is a living creature, and as if it will aid him in his quest for luck. He demonstrates his belief that he can force the horse to take him to luck, indicating that luck can be made or reached through sheer willpower and effort. The strange behavior seems indicative of neurosis and the anxiety generated by the materialistic pressure from the house and family, and also stems from the lesson on luck from his greedy mother.

We can note that these lines in particular lend themselves to a darker, more sexual reading, noting "mounting," "furious ride," and "get there."

“I started it for mother. She said she had no luck, because father is unlucky, so I thought if I was lucky, it might stop the whispering.”

Related Characters: Paul (speaker), Oscar Cresswell (Uncle Oscar), Hester, Paul’s father
Page Number: 278
Explanation and Analysis:

Soon after cutting Uncle Oscar into his partnership with Bassett, Paul makes ten thousand pounds on a bet. When Uncle Oscar asks him what he plans to do with all of the money, Paul responds with the quoted lines. He explains that he started accumulating money for his mother. She said that she was unlucky and her husband was unlucky, so Paul wanted to be lucky in order to "stop the whispering."

What Paul is referring to is the felt anxiety and pressure for money in his home, caused by his mother's greed and materialistic obsessions. We can note that when Uncle Oscar asks what is whispering, Paul responds with "Our house. I hate our house for whispering." When Paul tells his Uncle that the house always needs more money, Oscar simply agrees, and ultimately confirms Paul's idea that winning can stop the whispering. Thus Oscar's own greed also fuels Paul's anxious need to keep winning more and more money for his family.

Oscar then helps Paul arrange to deliver his winnings to Hester. We can also note that Paul doesn't want his mother to know (yet) that he is lucky, or that the money is coming from him. The relationship is based on the strange belief that he needs to give her money to quiet the house, but not share with her the fact that he is winning and is basing his entire reality on the notion of luck that she instilled in him. Thus Paul is seemingly acting out of love for his mother, but also is afraid of any real honesty and intimacy between himself and Hester.

And yet the voices in the house, behind the sprays of mimosa and almond-blossom, and from under the piles of iridescent cushions, simply trilled and screamed in a sort of ecstasy: “There must be more money! Oh-h-h! There must be more money! Oh, now, now-w! now-w-w—there must be more money!—more than ever! More than ever!”

Related Characters: Paul
Page Number: 280
Explanation and Analysis:

Though Paul has given his mother a large sum of money, the whispering hasn't stopped. Rather than using it to ease the financial pressures on the household, Hester spends the money and attempts to improve the family's lifestyle even more, investing in a tutor and a new school for Paul, as well as other luxuries like flowers in winter. By continuing in her materialistic pattern, Hester only increases the family's financial strain and anxiety.

Thus the voices in the house, behind all of the glamor purchased with Paul's winnings, become more excited than ever. Rather than whispering, the gentle push for money has turned into "trills" and "screams," saying that now, more than ever, there must be more money. There is urgency in the voice, and the amount of money required seems to have skyrocketed.

Here, Lawrence demonstrates how greed is insatiable, and how materialism and spending just begets more spending and debt without bringing any lasting happiness. The more money Hester has, the more she wants. The greed is constant, and Paul's influx of cash seems only to take his mother to the next level of desire and spending.

He became wild-eyed and strange, as if something were going to explode in him.

Related Characters: Paul
Related Symbols: Eyes
Page Number: 280
Explanation and Analysis:

The expression of the house's voices frightens Paul, fueling his anxiety. He studies with his tutor, but he devotes almost all of his energy to races with Basset. A few big races have gone by without him knowing who will win. In this state of anxiety and ceaseless desire for luck, Paul becomes "wild-eyed and strange, as if something were going to explode in him." These lines illustrate the tension building in him and the weird behavior he begins to exhibit. The mania is most apparent in his "wild eyes," which communicate emotions within the closed-off family where the spoken voice cannot. The growing greed and necessity for money is driving Paul towards insanity and illness, and his inhumane eyes symbolize this path and potentially communicate it to his family (though they don't seem to notice or care).

“I never told you, mother, that if I can ride my horse, and get there, then I’m absolutely sure—oh, absolutely! Mother, did I ever tell you? I am lucky!”

Related Characters: Paul, Hester
Related Symbols: The Rocking-Horse
Page Number: 284
Explanation and Analysis:

Paul's condition has worsened; on his deathbed, Basset informs him (and Hester) that Malabar indeed won the Derby, and that Paul has won over eighty thousand pounds. The lines excerpted here are Paul's last words. He finally tells his mother what he has been hiding for so long. He tries to explain about the rocking-horse, how if he rides and "gets there," he can become absolutely sure of the race's winner. He then reveals to her the true source of his anxiety, desire, and self worth. He tells her what he has asked Oscar and Bassett to hide from her: "Mother, did I ever tell you? I am lucky!"

Hester responds with, "No, you never did." At his deathbed, she seems finally to have reached a state of proper love and care for her son. She says nothing about the announcement of the prize winnings. But her dull response seems to deny Paul the satisfaction of her finally knowing about his luck, and the line following her response is, "But the boy died in the night." His mother's efforts are too late. The cold tragedy is presented with absolute brevity. Hester's greed and materialism, along with her methods as a parent (instilling young Paul with a twisted worldview revolving around luck), caused great anxiety and anguish in a house that whispered for money. Obsessed with luck, winning, and "getting there," Paul drove himself towards insanity, illness, exhaustion, and a tragic early death.

“My God, Hester, you’re eighty-odd thousand to the good, and a poor devil of a son to the bad. But, poor devil, he’s best gone out of a life where he rides his rocking-horse to find a winner.”

Related Characters: Oscar Cresswell (Uncle Oscar) (speaker), Paul, Hester
Related Symbols: The Rocking-Horse
Page Number: 285
Explanation and Analysis:

These lines, spoken by Uncle Oscar, are the last in the short story. They epitomize the problematic greed that Lawrence criticizes throughout the story. Oscar exclaims that the mother now has over eighty thousand pounds and has lost a strange ("poor devil of a") son, implying that she is better off now than with her son alive. We do not see Hester's response to her son's death. Instead, we see Uncle Oscar compare the worth of the boy's life to race winnings and immediately decide that the money is worth more. This position shows the perils of taking greed and materialism to the extreme, where a human life is lost in pursuit of wealth and his family is mostly apathetic about it.

Oscar's final, enigmatic sentence, suggests that Paul, the "poor devil" (a phrase Oscar repeats), is also better off dead than alive in a world where he "rides his rocking-horse to find a winner." In one interpretation, this final line condemns the world for its absurdity. But it also could suggest that given the pain, anxiety, and craziness Paul has experienced in his ceaseless rocking-horse ride to luck, he is better off leaving that world and life behind to find rest.